Perhaps the White House should have fought the privilege battle over Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. According to the Washington Post’s report on his opening statement, the Army nat-sec expert on Ukraine will tell Adam Schiff’s House committee that Ambassador Gary Sondland was pushing a quid pro quo for aid just a couple of weeks before the Donald Trump-Volodymyr Zelensky call. The quid in this case was an investigation of Burisma and the Bidens, Vindman will testify, and not just a broader crackdown on corruption:
An Army officer assigned to the White House plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he was disturbed by President Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate one of his political rivals and feared it would undermine U.S. national security.
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, was part of a small group of White House officials assigned to listen in on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. His testimony returns repeatedly to his fears that Trump’s manipulation of Ukraine policy to discredit his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, is unethical and damaging to U.S. national security. …
“In the Spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine,” his statement reads. “This alternative narrative undermined U.S. efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.”
Vindman cites a July 10 meeting in which Gordon Sondland, a major Trump donor and ambassador to the European Union, emphasized that to secure a meeting with Trump, the Ukrainians would have to “deliver investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma,” a Ukrainian natural gas company that had controversially tapped Biden’s son to serve on its board.
“I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the National Security Council was going to get involved with or push,” his statements reads.
Vindman says he communicated his concerns to the NSC’s attorney at that time, concerned that such a partisan play would split Congress on Ukraine aid. That would have “undermine[d] US national security,” Vindman explains in his statement. Fifteen days later, when he heard Trump bring up the Bidens in the call to Zelensky, Vindman says he became concerned that Sondland’s quid pro quo was being put into place.
This lines up with Ukraine charges d’affaires Bill Taylor’s reported testimony and the texts between Taylor and Sondland. On September 1, Taylor asked Sondland if “security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland replied, “Call me,” but a week later Taylor still suspected that the White House was leveraging aid for new probes into Burisma. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted on September 8, prompting a denial of any quid pro quo from Sondland, one which Sen. Ron Johnson later corroborated. However, Vindman’s testimony now has Sondland pushing just that kind of quid pro quo before the call and before the hold on aid to Ukraine, which makes Taylor look more credible in his later suspicions.
Of course, the problem here for Schiff et al is that Vindman never worked directly with Trump. He prepared a couple of memoranda for Trump’s signature on Ukraine and aid, which Trump never signed, but Vindman has no direct testimony on anything Trump did except the Zelensky call. We already have the transcript of that conversation, so unless Vindman can contradict the transcript or discuss excluded comments, this won’t directly get Schiff closer to impeachment. It might, however, impeach Sondland as a witness — and might be another reason why Sondland went back to review his testimony.
The Post notes that Vindman’s family fled the Soviet Union when he was three years old, coming to the US, and that he claims no particular partisan affiliation. That background probably led him to focus his nat-sec research on Russia and Ukraine, which makes a lot of sense. For some reason, though, former Rep. Sean Duffy tried to argue this morning that it might have made him too close to Ukraine to be focused on US interests, which sounds awfully similar to the kind of criticism that people level against Jews regarding Israel. Be careful with this line of thinking, folks, before impugning the integrity of a military officer especially.
Sean Duffy on CNN on Army Lt. Col. Vindman: "It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know that he's concerned about American policy … we all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from … he has an affinity for the Ukraine." pic.twitter.com/dlsYlTnCwR
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 29, 2019